19 January 1996

Moles are on the march-so act now

By Jeremy Hunt

PRODUCERS are being advised to undertake mole control early this season as mole catchers report unprecedented activity in many parts of the country.

"Everyone is going to be calling at once this spring and there is just not going to be time to get round every farm unless farmers plan ahead and book in early," says Lancashire mole catcher Peter Brown of Shaw, Oldham.

Permits to use strychnine poison to eradicate moles take about two weeks to be issued by the Ministry of Agriculture.

"If a farmer has a problem it takes a least a fortnight before we can get to him. Judging by the level of activity so far this winter that could be a very costly delay in terms of damage to grassland," says Mr Brown.

He is already seeing "a lot of earth coming up" as mole tunnels begin to collapse at this time of year. Establishing new tunnels leads to the creation of mole hills – the tell-tale signs of active mole populations.

"Controlling moles is an important part of grassland management but unfortunately a lot of farmers have not kept on top of things. In years where they call in the mole man too late and he cant get to them it ends up being a year where the mole population increases and things are even worse the next spring."

And this seasons high level of mole activity is not restricted to lowland farms. In-bye land on hill units is also badly affected by the pests. Mr Brown recently counted 178 mole hills on the in-bye land of one Lancashire hill farm.

"Moles can swim well and are naturally buoyant, so farmers should not assume that moles will be less of a problem if we suddenly get a wet period in early spring," he says.

"Mole control must become a part of overall grassland management. Soil contamination of grass crops can be very costly in terms of lost quality as well as the risk of listeriosis in sheep. There is also the added damage caused to machinery hitting stones thrown up by mole hills.

"I anticipate a big demand for mole clearance this spring but farmers must remember that if they leave it too late and grass growth has started before they call us out, it will be too late."

One of the main ways to check if moles are still active is to level the existing molehill and then check the area for fresh activity three days later.

There are various devices used to try to deter moles but few of them have any real effect. Burying milk bottles to produce a deterrent vibration and laying briars close to mole hills are considered to be a waste of time by professional catchers.

"Some farmers try pouring petrol, diesel, creosote or engine oil down the runs but all you will achieve is contaminated grassland and pose a dangerous pollution risk," says Mr Brown. &#42

Mole control… An important part of grassland management. Lancs mole catcher Peter Brown says that judging by this winters activity sward damage could be high.